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Saturday 6 April 2002, 23:30 BST
Journalist, blogger and science fiction author Charlie Stross has a short story collection out. If his two stories in Gardner Dozois' Year's Best SF 18 collection are anything to go by, Toast: And Other Rusted Futures promises to be one of the SF highlights of 2002.

Cory Doctorow has posted a snippet from a story he and Stross have collaborated on:
Welcome to the fractured future, at the dusk of the twenty-first century.

Earth has a population of roughly a billion hominids. For the most part, they are happy with their lot, living in a preserve at the bottom of a gravity well. Those who are unhappy have emigrated, joining one or another of the swarming densethinker clades that fog the inner solar system with a dust of molecular machinery so thick that it obscures the sun. Except for the solitary lighthouse beam that perpetually tracks the Earth in its orbit, the system from outside resembles a spherical fogbank radiating in the infrared spectrum; a matrioshke brain, nested Dyson orbitals built from the dismantled bones of moons and planets.

The splintery metaconsciousness of the solar-system has largely sworn off its pre-post-human cousins dirtside, but its minds sometimes wander nostalgiawise. When that happens, it casually spams Earth's RF spectrum with plans for cataclysmically disruptive technologies that emulsify whole industries, cultures and spiritual systems.

A sane species would ignore these get-evolved-quick schemes, but there's always *someone* who'll take a bite from the forbidden Cox Pippin. There's always someone whom evolution has failed to breed the let's-lick-the-frozen-fencepost instinct out of. There's always a fucking geek who'll do it because it's a historical goddamned technical fucking imperative.

Whether the enlightened, occulting smartcloud sends out its missives as pranks, poison or care-packages is up for debate. Asking it to explain its motives roughly as pointful as negotiating with an ant colony to get it to abandon your kitchen. Whatever the motive, humanity would be much better off if the Cloud would evolve into something so smart as to be uninterested in communicating with meatpeople.

But until that happy day, there's the tech jury service: Defending the earth from the scum of the post-singularity patent office.
I like it.

(NB/- I haven't seen a table of contents for Toast, so I don't know whether the Doctorow/Stross collaboration is included.)
Die Sissons Die.

Note to non-UK readers: some of the UK press were seriously unimpressed that BBC newsreader Peter Sissons wore a burgundy tie when he announced the death of the Queen Mother. Former Tory spin doctor Amanda Platell wrote an unintentionally hilarious piece in this week's New Statesman and somehow managed to conclude that Sisson's disrespectful demanour was yet another sign that the licence fee should be scrapped forthwith. (Unfortunately the article isn't online yet, but it should be up in a couple of weeks.)

[Brains Trust article via MetaFilter]
Borg Journalism. We are the Blogs. Journalism will be Assimilated.

A thoughtful article which makes good points as to what weblogs are good for, and why they're never going to replace investigative journalism. (Had anyone seriously suggested they would?)

[Via world of jill matrix]
Friday 5 April 2002, 23:15 BST
Boyfriend taught an expensive lesson about the need for both partners to use birth control.

[Via miss bitch]
The owner of Pets Warehouse is adopting a rather vigorous approach in the face of criticism from his customers. I'll just say that you should read the article and ask yourself whether this guy deserves to have any customers left if he keeps on behaving like this.
[Via MetaFilter]
Ouch! The Los Angeles Times reviews Ed Burns' new film, Sidewalks:
It's easy to see why Edward Burns' "Sidewalks of New York" was postponed from its September opening date. In one of the first scenes, you can see the late World Trade Center, looming majestically, directly over Burns' right shoulder. Which wouldn't be so bad. But it's giving the better performance.

[Via NTK]
The Big Lebowski Random Quote Generator. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
Dude: No, man, nothing is fucked here--
Lebowski: NOTHING IS FUCKED! THE GODDAMN PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE MOUNTAIN!
The Dude ... abides...

[Via Jejune.net]
Thursday 4 April 2002, 23:10 BST
The US edition of Maxim magazine published an article claiming Philadelphia is the greatest city on Earth.

So far, so mundane. In fact, Maxim printed thirteen different editions of the magazine, each one proclaiming a different city to be the best and dissing their rival cities, the idea being to distribute the appropriate edition of the magazine to each region.

Unfortunately, Maxim's distributors managed to send the wrong editions to each region, with predictable results. Oh well, they do say there's no such thing as bad publicity...

[Via Haddock.org]
Blog.craze. A very neatly done weblog-style newspaper article about weblogs.

[Via Kottke]
We hear a lot about security holes and backdoors in software, but a major element in the problem is that even when vulnerabilities are identified and fixed many users don't install the patches and updates made available by the software's authors.

One approach to this is Microsoft's Windows Update system, which some people like and others distrust with a passion. Jon Lasser suggests a more radical approach: build a timecode into software so that it stops working after X months and forces you to install an update.

I can see a problem with this. Lasser uses as one of his examples a user who insists on using out of date versions of SSH and PGP because these older versions work better with other tools than the latest ones. To Lasser, this is an example of a user who needs to be saved from himself. To me, it's a sign that the user has decided to stick with what works rather than put up with decreased functionality (from that user's perspective, based on his needs) in the interests of improved security. The big question is whether improvements in security warrant forcing users to upgrade. Wouldn't it be better for software authors to release patches for old versions of their software, rather than roll the patches in with new, "improved" features and force users to take both on board?

[Via CamWorld]
Michael "Stupid White Men" Moore is often very funny about big business and politicians. The question is, do the facts he throws around so freely add up?

[Via Electrolite]
Later this month we're going to be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical phenomenon: all five planets visible to the naked eye, lined up in a row.

Best of all, the spectacle will be repeated for several nights in a row so we're not likely to lose the chance of getting a good look just because of the odd cloudy night.

[Via nocto]
billgatespleasehireme.com. You can't say this guy doesn't know what he wants.

[Via blogjam]
Wednesday 3 April 2002, 23:25 BST
You remember that anti-Unix site Microsoft and Unisys put up? The one that turned out to be running on a Unix server?

Well, Microsoft decided to switch the site to a server running Microsoft's very own Internet Information Server (running, of course, on Windows). Would you care to guess what happened next?

[Via More a way of life....]
A new release of AdAware is out. If you're not sure why you might need it, read this story about the latest attempt to exploit your PC without your knowledge. As a couple of posters to an entirely different MetaFilter thread put it, after the first poster installed AdAware:
[...]
429 components found on a single machine. Do I win anything?
posted by grahamwell at 3:01 AM PST on April 3

The "I download everything and always click yes" award, is hereby awarded to you. :)
posted by canoeguide at 4:57 AM PST on April 3

[Brilliant Digital story via MetaFilter]
James Morrow writes to Locus Online.
Dear Locus Online,

OK, here's the idea. The Left Behind series is about what happens after the Rapture, right, when all the righteous get taken up? And everyone who sticks around gets to have nifty adventures? Well, check this out. In my series, 10 volumes outlined already, all the righteous get taken up, and in their absence the rest of us enact fair tax laws, pass constitutional amendments guaranteeing the rights of women, gays and lesbians, and craft a sane, non-apocalyptic Middle East policy. Plus we get, like, all their cars and stuff. I call it the Left Alone series. I pitched it to Tyndale House, but Jeez Louise, I won't repeat what they said, and them Christians.

James Morrow

[Via Looka!]
A double helping of P J O'Rourke. First, he's coming over all snarky about a letter from 103 Nobel laureates.
And allow me to be the millionth person to point out that among the Nobel Peace Prize winners are Yasir Arafat, Shimon Peres, Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. ("If the mushroom cloud doesn't clear up, call me in the morning.")
Then he takes issue (NB/- New York Times article: free registration required) with the advice on offer in some books on modern manners:
"The Fabulous Girl's Guide" is to social climbing what Dante's "Inferno" would be to salvation if Dante had chosen Petronius instead of Virgil as his docent in Hades: "The eighth circle is tough to get into. We're talking hypocrites and evil counselors and I mean major players, not run-of-the-mill Sunday talk-show pundits. Fortunately, I got our names on the list."

It shouldn't be forgotten that social climbing, like politesse and ceremonial conventions, is a good thing. Emily Post, who besides knowing where all the forks should go was one of the great moral philosophers of the 20th century, said, "Best Society, Best People or People of Quality can all be defined as people of cultivation, courtesy, taste and kindness." This is a peak the whole world should ascend. Would it be tasteless and unkind to start an avalanche just above the Fabulous Girl?

[Via Arts & Letters Daily]
"Not While I'm Alive, He Ain't!"

That comment is attributed to Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour government, in response to someone commenting that Bevin's rival Herbert Morrison was "his own worst enemy." Brian Walden presented a short programme on Radio 4 earlier this evening on the subject of political rivalries, and opened with Bevin vs Morrison, complete with comments from such Labour luminaries as Denis Healey and Morrison's grandson, a chap by the name of Peter Mandelson.

I'll grant you that this might not sound like a riveting listen, but it was a highly worthwhile programme, especially when you consider the extent to which such rivalries shaped - and continue to shape (see Blair vs Brown) - the course of governments. In this case, one legacy of Bevin's hatred of Morrison may have been that when Morrison took over the Foreign Office from Bevin the civil servants he had to work with had been so influenced by Bevin's view of his rival that this may have contributed to Morrison's failure to make much of the post. Or else it may simply have been that Bevin was one of the great post-war Foreign Secretaries and anyone else would look second-rate by comparison.

Next week's programme is on the Harold Wilson-George Brown rivalry. I do hope that Walden turns his attention to Tory governments of Thatcher and Major, or perhaps the Healey-Benn emnity of the 70s and early 80s.
Tuesday 2 April 2002, 22:25 BST
Watch out for the rabbit! I know I've spotted this a few days too late for Easter, but it's too funny to not mention just because it's not quite topical. (Flash required.)

[Via miss bitch]
The Fellowship of the Ring meets Moulin Rouge. With a little help from (among others) Prince & The Revolution, Guns 'n' Roses, Meatloaf, Chumbawumba, ABBA, Bob the Builder, ABC, the Addams Family, Queen, the Bee Gees and Adam and the Ants. Wonderfully silly:
Merry & Pippin: Biiiiill the Pony, can he carry it? Biiiiiiill the Pony, yes! he! can!

Fellowship: Weeeeee're dreaming of a whiiiiite Caradhras.

Legolas: I'm walking in the air. I'm floating in the frozen sky.

Frodo: I get knocked down, but I get up again. Now Boromir has got my ring. I get knocked down, but I get up again. Least he's given back the pesky thing.

Fellowship: An avalanche is falling on our heads. An avalanche is falling and we're likely to end up dead, dead, avalanche is falling, falling on our heads!

Gimli: Take me down to Moria city, where the mines are deep and the dwarves are pretty!
Has the web become boring? The New York Times certainly thinks so (NB/- free registration required.)

You can probably guess my answer given the number of links I post here every week. Let Scott Rosenberg explain why the media run this sort of story every few months. (Incidentally, the title of Rosenberg's piece is just perfect, don't you think?)

[Via rc3.org]
Hokey Spokes. Colourful. Fun. Likely to dazzle or distract your fellow road users?

[Via Boing Boing]
Over on rec.arts.sf.written, James Nicoll reviews The Essential Novels of Harry S Truman.

[Via Pigs & Fishes]
Rejoice! Rejoice! Crazy Tracy is back.

[Via Hava Cuppa Tea]
Monday 1 April 2002, 23:25 BST
My favourite online April Fool story this year, courtesy of The Register: You've Got Blogs!
"No cat will ever go ill again in America again in obscurity."

[Via Ben Hammersley.Com]
Microsoft and Unisys have launched We Have The Way Out, a web site aimed at persuading large companies to use Windows instead of Unix on the servers in their corporate datacentres. Nothing very interesting there, you might think: the Windows NT/2000/XP product line hasn't really made much of a dent in the market share of Unix in enterprise-level computing over the last few years, so they're bound to try to press their case.

However, you'd think that Microsoft would have learned by now that it's a bit of an own goal to have the web site which hosts your anti-Unix campaign run on ... you guessed it ... Unix.

[Via rc3.org]
World's First Banjo Concert for Penguins. If that line doesn't grab you, nothing I add here will make any difference...

[Via dust from a distant sun]
Sir John Nott, the Secretary of State for Defence during the Falklands Crisis, has published his memoirs. Presumably he's hoping to cash in on the 20th anniversary of the invasion. Whatever his reasons, according to Matthew Parris Sir John reminds us of one very interesting fact about the support the British received from their NATO allies.

It's long been known that the United States government was somewhat reluctant to support the British government wholeheartedly in the early stages of the conflict, given the understandable American desire to remain on good terms with Argentina's South American neighbours. (In fairness, once it was clear that a war was going to happen the US government did provide intelligence and logistic support.) What's less well known is that the the British received a great deal of vital information about the Argentine weapons systems from the French, right up to their lending the RAF examples of the types of aircraft flown by the Argentine forces. Strangely enough, I don't remember that assistance getting much of a mention at the time.

If Caspar Weinberger (who was US Defence Secretary during the Falklands crisis) got an honourary knighthood for his service to the British cause, why didn't President Mitterrand get one too? Call me petty, but I'd have dearly loved to see Mrs Thatcher's face as she watched a socialist French President pick up a gong from the Queen.

[Via Electrolite]
Sunday 31 March 2002, 23:55 BST
The details of the Region 2 DVD release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring have been released. Frankly it seems to me that they're taking advantage of the fans, releasing not one but two DVD sets between now and the release of The Two Towers next Xmas. If they released a super-duper boxed set of the trilogy after the release of The Return of the King theh that would be reasonable, but they just know some fans won't be able to resist having both DVD sets.

I think I'll go for the 2-DVD set that's due for release in August. I'm not sure that I really want the extra half-hour of footage all that badly.
Julie Burchill is to be the subject of a new play.
The one-woman show - starring the comedian Jackie Clune - will be set in the front room of the vitriolic columnist's Brighton mansion while her boyfriend lurks off-stage fixing the computer because the "I" key has jammed.
Heh.
I Am With You Always. A hilarious riff on Jesus - With You Always.

[Via Boing Boing]
Press Play to Pay. An interesting article comparing the usability of the various industry-sanctioned music download sites that are supposed to replace Napster. It seems to me that some of the problems identified are technical and can be overcome in time. Improved search capabilities are presumably not totally impossible to implement, and it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the record labels will eventually figure out that it's better to combine their resources and make it possible to find all their material in one place. Idiocies like limiting the number of downloads per artist are nothing to do with technical factors and could be dropped.

In principle it's no bad thing to have these different services compete and try out different approaches to charging and downloading so that the industry can find out what their customers want from an official music download service. Unfortunately, there are two reasons why these "official" services are doomed. First, they appear to want to force you to subscribe to them forever if you want to keep listening to the music you've downloaded, which is simply crazy. Second, they've turned most of their potential users into adversaries by spending the last three or four years treating their customers like thieves and lecturing them about morality instead of figuring out how to give the public what they so clearly want.

[Shift review via Boing Boing, Eisner article via MetaFilter]

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